WASHINGTON - The Justice Department will help fight crime while it tries to strengthen the bonds between police and residents of six ethnically diverse cities, including Stockton, Calif., and Fort Worth, Texas, under a new program resulting from the turmoil in Ferguson, Mo.
The selected cities will receive high-powered technical, research, and training assistance designed to "enhance procedural justice, reduce bias, and support reconciliation," according to officials who rolled out the program's details Thursday.
A $4.75 million federal grant will fund the effort for three years. By chance, it was unveiled about 13 hours after two police officers were shot and wounded during a late-night demonstration in Ferguson.
"Incidents like the one we have witnessed throw into sharp relief why conversations like the one we convened today, to build trust between law enforcement and community members, are so important," Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said.
The program is formally dubbed the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice. Its outlines were announced in September after the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer prompted widespread demonstrations and broader scrutiny of frayed relations between civilians and law enforcement.
The selected cities range in population from Stockton's 298,000 to Fort Worth's 792,000. The other cities in the pilot program are Pittsburgh; Minneapolis; Gary, Ind.; and Birmingham, Ala.
Like Ferguson, the cities selected for the Justice Department program have significant ethnic minority populations.
Forty percent of Stockton's residents are Hispanic, 21 percent are Asian, and 12 percent are African American. In Fort Worth, 19 percent are African American and 34 percent are Hispanic.
"African Americans and Latinos have a sense of distrust about law enforcement," John Ervin 3d, founder of a Modesto, Calif.-based teen mentoring program called Project UPLIFT, said in an interview Thursday, adding that the Justice Department program could help "as long as it's a joint effort between law enforcement and the community."
Underscoring the heightened attention being paid to the issue, Ervin and other northern San Joaquin Valley community leaders will participate in an all-day American Leadership Forum conference about community relations with law enforcement Sunday at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.
Fort Worth Police Chief Rhonda Robertson said her department was "honored" to be selected.